07 Perlman MusideumAlive at Musideum
Sophia Perlman; Adrean Farrugia
Independent #AS1012 (www.sophiaperlman.com)

This latest CD project from luminous vocalist Sophia Perlman and gifted pianist Adrean Farrugia was recorded “Live” at an intimate, evocative venue boasting one of Toronto’s finest pianos – the ideal spot for capturing this intimate, eclectic and thoroughly splendid performance. Perlman and Farrugia have a profound chemistry and sensitivity to their individual creative modalities, and the collection of tunes is diverse, to say the least.

The duo explores compositions from such far-flung artists as David Bowie, Gershwin, Thelonious Monk and Geri Allen. These are bold, original choices in repertoire – rendered with an intuitive, high musicality and purity of intent that is reminiscent of the work of Alan Broadbent and the late Irene Kral.

Standouts include a clever, contemporized reworking of Gershwin’s But Not For Me, featuring a rhythmic piano part and Perlman’s horn-like scat singing. Also, her rich, sensual, alto voice caresses the melody of a rarely performed Ellington composition, All Too Soon. Certainly one of the most interesting tracks is the duo’s interpretation of David Bowie’s anthem against the mundane, Life on Mars. Also gorgeous – albeit deliciously melancholy – is a legato take on the Tin Pan Alley classic After You’ve Gone, and Farrugia’s dynamic solo piano performance on Geri Allen’s Feed the Fire clearly establishes his position as one of the finest and most technically gifted pianists on the scene today.

Kudos must go to Donald Quan and Roger Sader for their superb job of onsite recording. Every lovely, melodic and complex nuance has been beautifully captured.

08 Panton ChristmasChristmas Kiss
Diana Panton
Independent DIA-CD-5605 (www.dianapanton.com)

If the post isn’t already taken, I’d like to nominate Diana Panton as Canada’s jazz sweetheart. With this, her fifth CD in about as many years, Panton firmly establishes herself as a steadfast source for pretty and accessible song collections. Though she works in the jazz realm and collaborates with some of the most respected jazz players in the industry – Don Thompson on bass and piano, Reg Schwager on guitar and Guido Basso on flugelhorn and trumpet – Panton takes quite a straightforward approach in her singing. She picks finely written pieces, usually from a few decades ago, and delivers them in an honest and endearing way. With Christmas Kiss, winter and holiday tunes get the velvet glove treatment. Although most will be familiar such as Winter Wonderland and Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas, there are a few lesser known selections such as C’est Noel Cheri and the title tune, written by Panton and Thompson. Dave Fishberg’s Snowbound epitomizes cool yet cozy comfort, especially with the addition of Thompson’s tasteful work on vibes. And for that perennial duet, Baby it’s Could Outside, R & B legend and fellow Hamiltonian, Harrison Kennedy, plays the role of the persuader. The CD release event is December 10 at the Old Mill Inn.

09 Kurt Elling1619 Broadway – The Brill Building Project
Kurt Elling
Concord Jazz CJA-33959-02

When I first heard that Kurt Elling was turning his cerebral musical sights on songs from the Brill Building era for his next album, I couldn’t imagine how the two very different styles would come together. The BrillBuilding was a musical factory known for churning out teen-oriented pop hits in the late 50s and early 60s from resident songwriters such as Jerry Goffin and Carole King, Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil and Neil Sedaka.

Kurt Elling is a true jazz singer; a hep cat who takes a serious and sometimes ponderous approach to music, often with stunning results. So hearing his take on fluffy tunes like You Send Me and Pleasant Valley Sunday is an exercise in open-mindedness for listeners familiar with the original versions.

1619 Broadway: The Brill Building Project is no trip down memory lane – these songs have, for the most part, been completely and successfully re-imagined. Working with his longtime collaborator, pianist Laurence Hobgood, guitarist John McLean, bassist Clark Sommers and drummer Kendrick Scott, Elling plays with tempos and enriches harmonies at every turn. The most effective arrangements are those that stay true or add additional depth to the original meaning of the song, despite musical wanderings, like the taut, striving On Broadway and I’m Satisfied with its swingy groove. Best, though, are the more straightforward and expressive approaches such as I Only Have Eyes for You, So Far Away and American Tune. Nobody can touch Elling when it comes to delivering a beautiful ballad.

Kurt Elling and his quintet play the Living Arts Centre in Mississauga, March 22, 2013.

10 Red Hot RambleRed Hot Ramble
Red Hot Ramble
Independent RHR001 (www.redhotramble.ca)

Recorded at The Canterbury Music Company, Toronto, March 30, 2012 with Roberta Hunt, lead vocals, piano, Alison Young, baritone and alto sax, Glenn Anderson, drums, percussion and Jack Zorawski, bass. All three also sing background vocals. They are joined by Andrej Saradin, trumpet and Jamie Stager, trombone on some of the numbers.

Roberta Hunt and Red Hot Ramble have established a following in Toronto with their New Orleans influenced brand of jazz and this CD is a good representation of their entertaining approach to the music.

The music is infectious and I particularly enjoyed the soloing of Alison Young. The music is a mix of material ranging from Doctor Jazz by Joe "King" Oliver to Horace Silver's The Preacher and all of it with a contemporary New Orleans feel. Purists might raise an eyebrow or two at the chord changes of Lonesome Road, the 1927 song by Nathaniel Shilkret and Gene Austin, but with repeated listening I got accustomed to this version.

The band is propelled along nicely by Glenn Anderson and Jack Zorawski. Anderson's playing, for example, on the Eddie Harris number Cold Duck Time shows a real understanding of the idiom. Roberta herself lends her own distinctive styling to the proceedings and the overall result is like party night in a friendly bar.

11 Dream GypsyDream Gypsy
Bruce Harvey; Tom Hazlitt; Kevin Coady
Audubon Music Productions

Bruce Harvey is an exceptionally talented pianist, a fact well-known by other musicians but under-recognized as far as the general listening public is concerned. This is partly because he has a busy career playing shows and accompanying singers, and he spends much less time featuring himself as a soloist or building a high profile outside the immediate musical community.

This recording will go some way to changing that perception. There is a pensive quality to much of the music throughout this CD which is made up of well-known standards, like Laura and Falling In Love With Love, some lesser-known pieces such as You’re My Everything, Old Portrait by Charles Mingus, J. J. Johnson’s Lament and one original by Bruce called Claire De Soleil. There is also a tantalisingly short, (just over one minute), take on Ray Noble’s Cherokee which is given the name Odd Fragment.

Throughout the album Harvey’s imaginative playing amply demonstrates why he is highly regarded by his peers and his fellow musicians. Tom Hazlitt and Kevin Coady provide a sympathetic and tasteful accompaniment.

Like many CDs today this is an independent production so if you are interested in purchasing it please contact harvemuse@yahoo.ca.

12 TrapistCDThe Golden Years
Staubgold Digital 19

Although no one would ever confuse the improvisations on this CD with ecclesiastical plainsong, the fact that this Canadian/German/Austrian trio’s name suggests the Trappist order, implies the deferential skill it brings to the music. Not only do the three players cunningly negotiate the boundaries between jazz improvisation, rock beats and electronic interface, but like monks in that order which discourages speech, this compelling program includes as many lucid and protracted pauses as measured instrumental timbres.

Over the course of four mesmerizing tracks, Vancouver-born bassist Joe Williamson’s steadying thumps are advanced with the same sort of electronic delays and modulations as German-born guitarist Martin Siewert brings to his slurred fingering, which is already distorted and processed. Plus the inventive slaps, flams and drags from Austrian percussionist Martin Brandlmayr are only as pronounced as needed to keep the program balanced. Ambidextrous or overdubbed, he expands the basic tripartite sound generation with piano riffs or vibraphone reverb when needed.

Filtering out extraneous timbres throughout, Trapist reaches a climax of sorts on The Spoke and the Horse when perfectly timed twanging guitar licks, a juddering bass line and emphasized drum rolls blend with the crackling and grinding voltage undercurrent for a satisfying rhythmic exposition. Meanwhile, bass and drums harmony is expanded with sensitive vibe colouration and dense, signal-processed buzzing. Finally, after folksy guitar strums and metronomic bass stops are paired with processed sequences that could be telephone dial tones or aviary twitters, the final track incorporates the intimation of waves lapping against the seashore. A similar resonance was heard on the first track, bringing the program full circle.

Additionally this CD confirms how wide a sonic spectrum can result when electronics are put in the service of intelligent intermingling of a minimum of instrumental textures.

13 ContinuumDavid Virelles arrived in Toronto in 2001 at 17, the protégé of Jane Bunnett who has helped in so many ways to take Cuban music to the world. Virelles received the first Oscar Peterson Prize at Humber College from Peterson himself, then won the Grand Prix de Jazz award at the 2006 Montreal Jazz Festival. Since moving to New York in 2009, he’s been studying and working with adventurous musicians like Steve Coleman and Henry Threadgill. Virelle’s first American release as a leader, Continuum (Pi Recordings 46 www.pirecordings.com), is a brilliant step forward — an exploration of Afro-Cuban ritual elements in which his sometimes pensive, sometimes explosive improvisations are framed by poet and percussionist Román Diaz, whose poems are in Spanish and African-derived ritual languages. The music is rooted by bassist Ben Street and given further dimension and sonic potency by the great drummer Andrew Cyrille, who brings both Haitian ancestry and jazz lineage to the sessions. In a world where mere piano chops are common, Virelles’ Continuum demonstrates real depth and vision.

14 TaigaAl Henderson rarely pushes his bass out front but it’s hard to overlook his presence as a bandleader and a composer, creating music with independent harmonic structures, a keen sense of voicings, memorable lines and real passion. His latest CD Taiga (Cornerstone CRST CD 138 www.cornerstonerecordsinc.com), named for the Northern boreal forest, is steeped in the traditions of Mingus and Monk (Martian Jump is pure Monk) whether it’s hard-driving or weirdly atmospheric — like Croaking Raven which comes with Newfoundland bird tapes, eerie bass clarinet and a recitation of Poe. Henderson is armed with A-list saxophonists — Pat LaBarbera on tenor and Alex Dean on alto, tenor and bass clarinet, and there are appearances on some tracks by baritone specialist David Mott — and the three make up a superb Ellingtonian reed choir on Henderson’s Portrait of Billy Strayhorn.

15 DisterheftBrandi Disterheft is another standout bassist, with a deep resonant sound of her own and a deft hand at constructing supportive lines and emotionally direct solos. She also has a knack for creating good group chemistry and well-crafted CDs, beginning with the Juno-winning Debut in 2006. On Gratitude (Justin-Time Just 247), she’s assembled a first-rate New York band that she uses to excellent effect. It’s a group with soulful depths, with transplanted Canadian pianist Renee Rosnes coming to the fore on Disterheft’s Blues for Nelson Mandela and the horns — alto saxophonist Vincent Herring and trumpeter Sean Jones — sounding terrific on Rosnes’ anthemic post-bop Mizmahta. Disterheft also sings on a couple of tracks, including the soul classic Compared to What, in a light, musical way that’s a fine complement to her instrumental abilities.

16 Peggy LeeFirst formed as a sextet in 1998 and now an octet, the Peggy Lee Band has an almost magical capacity for musical synthesis, moving seamlessly between the cellist-leader’s compositions, jazz improvisation and freely improvised solos that often explore alternative techniques. On their fifth CD Invitation (Drip Audio DA00853 www.dripaudio.com) the title track has the clear harmonies of a folk song, while other tracks will pick up the moods of hymns, 1930s swing and the elegies and landscapes of Samuel Barber or Aaron Copland, with frequent introductions and interludes of almost interior monologue — the cello sings in whistling, tumbling harmonics, a trombone solo by Jeremy Berkman in which several trombones seem to mutter together, or a passage by guitarist Tony Wilson that might spring from African strings.

17 SanzaruKate Hammett-Vaughan can be Canada’s most adventurous jazz singer — she’s turned the writer Jane Bowles’ post-stroke notebooks into art song (on Conspiracy from 2006) — but she’s also explored more conventional repertoire, revealing at every turn a talent that’s as inspired and skilful as it is daring. Whatever the material, Hammett-Vaughan is one of our best singers, with a rich contralto, an ability to sing with the clarity of speech and a host of subtle, expressive techniques from altering pitch to shifting vibrato. A sense of conversational ease permeates Sanzaru (S/R www.katehv.com), a live recording devoted to standards. She’s joined by Bill Coon, a guitarist who plays very few notes, just the best ones, and bassist Adam Thomas who sings as well, with such ebullience and musicality that he recalls Louis Prima. Come Rain or Come Shine and ‘S Wonderful are highlights.

18a Conversations18b Cooke-WiensVancouver saxophonist Coat Cooke may be best known as the leader of the NOW Orchestra, a brilliant aggregation of 16 Vancouver improvisers that set a national standard for such ensembles. He’s heard on a very different scale on two new releases, each featuring a duo. Cooke’s free-jazz side comes through on Conversations with drummer Joe Poole (Now Orchestra CLNOW006 www.noworchestra.com) with Cooke working through the saxophone family in a series of dialogues ranging from the intensity of Feeling Feint to the puckishly vocal Dancing the Night Away, all of it enhanced by Poole’s subtly complex drumming. There’s a very different side of Cooke to be heard on the free improvisation of High Wire with Montreal guitarist Rainer Wiens (Now Orchestra CLNOW007). The emphasis is on texture and timbre, eerie whistling saxophone tones moving through layers of bowed and scratched guitar strings. There’s something uncannily involving about these fragile, evolving drones, a kind of tensile strength and focus that rewards sustained attention.

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